In Korea, we have a saying “Paddle while the tide is high”. Yes, it is an equivalent to the English proverb “Strike while the iron is hot”. And that’s what I am going to do in this post – resurfacing one of my earlier studies to show how insightful it was.
So, this happened about two weeks ago.
South Korea is contending with a ‘Gamergate’ of its own – over a t-shirt (Mark H. Kim, NPR, 29 July 2016)
I also made a quick post at that time, but to reiterate, a voice actress in South Korea, Kim Jayeon, was fired for wearing a t-shirt with a feminist slogan. A ‘radical‘ one at that: “Girls do not need a prince.” Later she issued a statement that it was a mutually reached decision between her and the company that she left.
Then people seem to have moved on to a next target swiftly. Yesterday, an actress named Ha Yeon-soo issued a hand-written public apology for her ‘inappropriate attitude’ towards comments left on her Facebook and Instagram. What did she do? On at least two occasions, when she was answering questions about items in her photos (i.e. a harp in one and a painting in the other), she practically added “You could have Googled”.
She had been known for her formal tone of writing, but this time, her self-claimed fans said enough was enough. They said she was “condescending”, “full of herself”, and needed to be reminded of “her place”. After all, she is a celebrity and “lives on fans’ love and support“. I even saw forum threads discussing how she should have responded instead: e.g. throwing in a few emoticons to soften the tone.
In fact, many more public apologies were issued between Kim’s and Ha’s. According to the NPR article linked above, there have been some 80. I lost track of them myself, so I am just as surprised as the next person. What I can tell you, however, is that most of them were from young women in publicly visible professions.
This is where my earlier findings come in. After having analysed the individual tweets picked up as ‘news’ and reported across 1,777 Korean articles in 2012, I found that
- A tweet was likely to attract media attention in the Korean context if it was perceived to create ‘disharmony’;
- There was no either/or consensus on whether Twitter is a public space, but in the process of news-making, a dual standard was in operation: if the user had a ‘public presence’ (however loosely defined), their tweets were, regardless of the content or intended recipients, viewed to be fair game for public scrutiny;
- Almost all who were reported to have failed at such scrutiny were women, and that was attributable to a stricter application of moral protocols.
With regard to the third finding, those female users included a novelist, a girl band, and a teenage singer, and they were criticised for impulsivity, passive aggression, and “two-facedness” detected(!) in their tweets.
As someone who has been researching Korean society for some time, I think one of my biggest frustrations is the response I get, from Korean and non-Korean audiences alike, when I point to this subtle type of social gagging. “But you are better than other Asian countries.” Or in other words, the democracy and human rights we have are *good enough* for an Asian country.